Saint Michael’s pair taking long way home – by canoe

August 19, 2015

Saint Michael’s College students know how to think outside of the box – or for that matter, outside of the plane, train or automobile.

One of them, Jack O’Callaghan ’17, is ready — before classes resume in late August — to paddle a canoe along the Connecticut River all the way home to Glastonbury, CT, just southeast of Hartford.

He’ll be joined by good friend and fellow Saint Michael’s student “AJ” (Alvin) Clemens ’17 of Union Dale, PA, following the mid-August wrap-up of the two political science majors’ paid summer job with Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). For weeks, they’ve been canvassing door-to-door, fund-raising and promoting a carbon tax as a global warming solution, while planning the trip in their spare time.

The pair planned to put in at North Stratford, NH, across the Connecticut River from Bloomfield VT – that’s way up in the Northeast Kingdom — on Tuesday, August 18, for what they hope will be an approximately 12-day journey of more than 250 miles south to O’Callaghan’s central Connecticut hometown.

“We were down in Brattleboro camping along the river during some VPIRG work a while back, and because I was feeling homesick, I was talking about just kayaking down to my home since I don’t have a car,” O’Callaghan said, “ but AJ said, ‘I’m not letting you do that by yourself — let’s do it right.’”

Maps show that it is about 225 miles as a crow flies from their start point to Glastonbury, but the river has a lot of bends and turns – plus dams and developed areas that will pose challenges to the canoers – though  nothing that seems insurmountable, O’Callaghan said, based on their careful research of recent weeks.

It’s a route many canoe enthusiasts have completed before by using charted campsites, portaging trails around dams and other useful information that the Saint Michael’s travelers plan to make full use of. Much of it they found on the website of the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail, along with other resources. The Paddler’s trail is a series of primitive campsites and river access points spanning from the headwaters south to Long Island Sound. While most of the river shore is privately owned, a number of generous landowners have agreed to host campsites on their land.

Earlier this summer, O’Callaghan and Clemens bought a quality old-fashioned canoe, a yellow 17–foot 1976 Old Town Chippewa model, from an experienced canoer in Bethel, VT, for $300 – all the money they had — after the seller was inspired by their story and enthusiasm and decided to give them a break from the original $500 asking price, O’Callaghan said.

The friends have been practicing with the canoe in Lake Champlain when not out knocking on doors for VPIRG. They got involved with their summer canvassing work after speaking with a VPIRG representative who was “tabling” in the student center lobby last semester, they said. O’Callaghan said he has enjoyed working for a cause he strongly believes in, one that has allowed him to travel the state and meet interesting people.

“You get some doors slammed in your face, but for every one of those, there are three who invite you in, sit you down for dinner or give you a glass of cold water and thank you for what you’re doing – or maybe make a contribution,” he said. According to O’Callaghan, about 80 other student activists this summer from around the U.S. helped raise funds for VPIRG, visiting every town in Vermont and canvassing door-to-door. The funds will go toward Statehouse efforts to counter “big-money corporate lobbyists,” he said, and “to take action on climate change by putting a price on carbon pollution.”

O’Callaghan said that his pal Clemens, ever the adventurer, just returned, a day or two before their departure, from a trip to Russia with his father.

On the canoe trip, the pair’s plan is to travel as light as possible, O’Callaghan said. “We’ll pack as much food as we can — a fishing pole to maybe catch dinner some nights, dry-bags full of essentials– hammocks to sleep in, rain cover, tarps, mosquito nets and a little burner to cook with.” Friends plan to canoe alongside them for part of the trip in central Vermont, he said.

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